August 8, 2016

CHILD’S PLAY

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Hollywood agent Nicole Pryor Dernersesian knows first-hand the promises and perils of putting your kid in from of a camera. The former child performer, Miss California finalist, and musical theater star (her credits including over 2600 performances of The Phantom of the Opera) is the founder of FireStarter Entertainment (FSE). Her younger clients include Teshi Thomas (Broadway’s The Lion King), Kennedy Slocum (Nickelodeon’s WITS Academy), and Blake Morgan Ferris (Showtime’s Masters of Sex). Here, Nicole weighs in on what she looks for when signing new child clients, how she feels about “stage parents,” and keeping a young actor grounded.

NN:  What do you look for (besides talent) when signing younger clients? 

ND:  When I look for young talent, the most important thing I look for besides talent is the child’s passion for the art of acting.  There are a lot of talented kids in this world who are not interested in acting. I am looking for young talent who love acting and have the maturity level to withstand the rejection that comes along with it.  Without passion and maturity, the entertainment business will destroy that child and I will not be a part of that.  I will not, under any circumstances, represent a talented child who is not mature and does not show a passion for the art of acting.

NN:  How important is parental involvement when representing young clients? 

ND:  Once I have established that a talented child is excited about pursuing a career in acting, I then have to make sure that the parent is truly committed to the process and willing and able to let me, the agent guide the ship. I have to make sure that the parent is completely prepared and on board for what they are signing up for.  The parent is the one driving to auditions, managing the audition schedule and preparing the child for auditions. When the child books a job, the parent has to be on set with the child for the duration of the shoot (days, months or even years). It can be a full-time job and a parent must be willing to commit a big portion of their time and energy to their child’s career. This commitment is not for everyone.

NN:  What role should a parent play in their child’s career?

ND:  The parent’s role is to support their child’s dream of becoming an actor.  Parental involvement takes a wrong turn when the parent wants it more than the child. Some would call these type of parents: “Stage Parents” or “Stage Moms.” A stage parent is a parent who is willing do anything to gain fame, money or prestige through the talent of their child. I have seen parents push their children into an acting career when that child does not want to be a part of it. This can destroy a child.  I want parents to be guided by their child’s passion toward this career, not vice versa. A child has the right to be a child, without the interruption of auditions and the rejection that comes with it.  I love it when a parent comes to me and says: “I don’t know much about the entertainment business, but I think my child is very talented and they won’t stop bugging me about acting. I am here to support my child.”  When I hear this, I know that the child is running the show.  This type of parental support leads to the most successful child acting careers.  One story that I would love to share is about my first client, Teshi Thomas. When I met Teshi, I knew that she was not only talented, but she was passionate about performing. She was also mature beyond her years. Her mother, Evonne came to me with very little knowledge of the entertainment business but wanted to support her child’s dream. She was (and continues to be) open and willing to let me, the talent agent, guide them through the process.  Within a year of us working together, Teshi booked the role of Young Nala in The Lion King on Broadway in New York.  The job of a talent agent is to get work for the child actor. The role parents is to support the best interests of their child, whether it means to pursue acting or step out of the world of entertainment altogether. When it comes to the pursuit of a career in acting, the child’s passion should be the primary guiding force.

NN:  How can you keep your kids from getting too spoiled in Hollywood – especially as they start having success?

ND: I think the best thing you can do for a child actor, is to continue to treat them like a child. If your child was required to do chores before they started acting, they should be required to do chores after they started acting.  Being a child actor requires a high level of discipline and maturity. It is important that once that child comes home, that they can be a child again and receive the same level of responsibility, love, and normality that they received before stepping into the adult world of entertainment.  I believe that this high level of parental support will help keep that child actor grounded.

NN: Do you have to live in Hollywood or New York to launch a career? Why or Why not?

ND: Your proximity to Hollywood or New York is vital to your success in the entertainment business. Most auditions are located in Hollywood or New York. If you are not located in either city, you must be willing to travel in order to attend auditions, many of which are scheduled last minute. And as we all know, the price of travel is expensive, especially when booked last minute for two people (the child actor and the parent). Even if the parent is willing to pay for the cost of travel, sometimes it is impossible for travel to be arranged. For example: sometimes we get same day audition appointments. If the child actor and parent are located in Texas and I need them to be in Los Angeles for an appointment scheduled in one hour, it is physically impossible for the child actor and parent to make it to out to Los Angeles in time. For this reason, I rarely take on clients who are not physically located in Hollywood or New York. If you are committed to a career in acting, you must be located where the jobs are.

NN: How has the business changed for kids since you started your own career?

ND: I would have to say that the internet and social media have changed the entire entertainment business. Child actors are particularly affected by this change because they are still developing, both mentally and physically. And once that child actor becomes successful, any physical change, growing pain or mistake will now be captured in real time and broadcast for the entire world to see and weigh in on with their unfiltered opinions. This type of visibility and transparency can really affect a child’s self-esteem and mental growth and stability. This is why it is so imperative that once a child steps out of the world of “Hollywood” and back into their family home, that the parent does their best to create and provide a safe environment of normalcy for that child.  The parent is instrumental in making sure that the child actor’s developmental years are not permanently disrupted and destroyed by the sometimes brutal entertainment business and all of the unfiltered noise surrounding it. www.FireStarterEntertainment.com

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